20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers
In part 28 of our continuing 20:20 Q&A series,
the amazingly remarkable Mike Dawes —master solo acoustic guitarist and instructor—
joins us as our guest in our Guitar Masters Special Editions.
Replete with wit and humor, Mike jokes about such things as losing his money in bad stock investments and being dropped on his chin when he was 3. He shares warmly about his love and appreciation of playing in the US, releasing his live album called Shows and Distancing: Live in the USA in tribute to that love and appreciation, teaching fans on the road, and more.
Welcome, Mike, and thank you for joining us.
20:20 with Mike Dawes
NWM 1): Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
Mike: My name is Mike Dawes, I’m from England, play acoustic guitar, and have been spending too much time in my basement recently.
NWM 2): Please share a unique childhood experience that you feel helped contribute to who you and your music are today.
Mike: My Dad showed me The Blues Brothers, the VHS store showed me Rocky IV, my friends showed me Van Halen, and my godfather showed me the French fingerstyle virtuoso Pierre Bensusan. I’d say these are probably notable influences over time, plus the Moody Blues over the past eight years of being able to share the stage with Justin Hayward.
Regarding an individual experience, my Gran dropped me on my chin when I was 3.
I’m from England, play acoustic guitar, and have been spending too much time in my basement recently.
NWM 3): Name three things that make you smile.
Mike: American candy, great stage sound, my dentist.
NWM 4): You create layers to simulate a four-piece band with a single instrument—your guitar.
Tell us how you discovered and developed this style of playing, which you describe as ‘simple,’ but to us is no less than magic.
Mike: That’s kind of you. It’s mostly a product of being a weirdo in a small town without many other nerdy musicians around, so the solo performance style was a way out of that. The process is relatively straight forward, but of course the execution takes practice like anything. I’d imagine if I grew up in Nashville, I’d be in a band with others, but who knows? There is something magical about being on stage alone. Magical and terrifying.
NWM 5): What is a favorite of your songs? Please tell us a little bit about it.
Mike: I really enjoy playing a song called ‘Encomium (Reverie).’ It’s not a ‘showstopper’ kind of tune, but it’s a beautiful moment playing it live in a big hall with big reverb. On the Era album, it’s played a tone lower with a guitar pick, which is a little different to how I normally play. Big strummed open chords in a wonderful Michael Hedges-style tuning. I really like the simplicity. It’s an honest expression.
NWM 6): Where were you and what were you doing when you realized COVID-19 had just changed your life as a performance artist?
Mike: I was actually coming back from a wonderful 36-show tour of North America with International Guitar Night. We ended during early March in the Seattle area and the final three shows were noticeably quiet, as ticket holders were staying away. When I flew back home to the UK and noticed how poorly they were prepared at Heathrow Airport, I knew this was going to hit hard, and here we are still in lockdown in the UK.
What better time to acknowledge the live concerts than now, right? It’s a love letter to all the good souls I’ve met over the past eight years.
NWM 7): Your answer to the curious time in which we find ourselves due to COVID was to release your first ever live album called Shows and Distancing: Live in the USA, which was recorded throughout the United States in 2019.
Please tell us about this album and what makes it special and timely.
Mike: Yeah it kind of worked out perfectly and allowed me to really inject more love and attention to the project. In late 2019, I recorded a few shows on the road with Justin Hayward to accompany some other live headlines and collaborations from various US trips in the years prior. Each year since 2013, I’ve spent around five months touring in the USA, and I love it so much. I owe so much to the people and the promoters over there, so for that reason I wanted to release a real live album themed around that.
I wanted to make a live album that sounded like a full show, so I kept the stage banter and the crowd interaction throughout. I love it so much, and I’m so proud of how the masters turned out. Lots of room sound and exceptional audio engineering on the notoriously-tricky-to-mix-solo-guitar live record.
What better time to acknowledge the live concerts than now, right? It’s a love letter to all the good souls I’ve met over the past eight years. I’m so grateful for the good times and can’t wait to get back out there!
NWM 8): What cover do you most enjoy playing and why?
Mike: Right now I enjoy playing my new Van Halen ‘Jump’ tribute. Eddie was such a huge influence on me and his passing last year was like a wrecking ball throughout the community. I put everything into that arrangement and people seem to like it. Including his son Wolfgang, which really means the world.
NWM 9): What is something that has surprised you in your life or career? Tell us a bit about it.
Mike: Honestly just the fact that people care at all. I’ve never tried to write for a specific audience so I suppose in that respect, gaining any fanbase is a really welcome surprise. Super grateful.
Never let the music be affected by trend or fashion.
NWM 10): You were named Best Acoustic Guitarist in the World two years in a row (2017 and 2018) by Total Guitar Magazine/MusicRadar reader polls.
Please tell us what such an accomplishment and recognition means to you.
Mike: It probably means more to my Mum, but it’s really sweet of course. The fact that it’s a readers poll means more as it shows people are actively voting. That being said I vote for Tommy Emmanuel every time.
NWM 11): Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd?
Mike: That’s unfair.
NWM 12): What is a core tenet by which you live your life or approach your music?
Mike: To never let the music be affected by trend or fashion. Marketing strategy comes after the piece is created. This might sound pretentious, but at least it means that during a gig, every note is honest and actually has humble intent behind it. Also never stand up as soon as the plane lands. Wait for the doors to open.
NWM 13): You have toured with Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues, Andy McKee, and the legendary Tommy Emmanuel, playing extensively throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, and shows all over the world.
Tell us about a particularly memorable performance and/or venue.
Mike: Really every concert is a privilege. Especially looking back now. Honestly though, any gig in the US is special. The audiences there just get it, and they love the guitar.
NWM 14): If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
Mike: Eddie Van Halen.
Travel is number one for me, but since the pandemic, my hobbies have mostly involved losing all my savings in bad stock investments.
NWM 15): You have a strong reputation as an educator, acting as a columnist for Guitar World and Acoustic Guitar magazines, as well as teaching multiple guitar workshops all over the world, creating apps, publishing degree-level literature, and more.
Please elaborate on your role as an educator—what, specifically, do you seek to impart, and what does teaching mean to you personally.
Mike: I adore teaching and love teaching fans on the road. Since the pandemic, I’ve been active on my Patreon page which has been fun, as well as doing ‘Lockdown Lessons’ via Zoom. All the info is on https://mikedawes.com if you’re interested in having a guitar chat!
NWM 16): What are your special interests beyond music?
Mike: Travel is number one for me, but since the pandemic, my hobbies have mostly involved losing all my savings in bad stock investments.
NWM 17): What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that you actually follow?
Mike: It’s never too late to start something.
NWM 18): Apart from live music, what are you most looking forward to when things return to ‘normal’?
Mike: Good stock investments.
NWM 19): What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you which we might not know to ask?
Mike: I severed a fingertip on my fretting hand. It was reattached, but looks a little funky.
NWM 20): What’s next for Mike Dawes?
Mike: More music singles, some videos and TAB for older tunes that I’ve wanted to do for a while. More activity on Patreon and my YouTube channel. Mainly, I lovingly await my vaccinations and being able to see friends and family again.
Mike Dawes is an English guitarist known for composing, arranging and performing multiple parts simultaneously on a single guitar. He is hailed as one of the world’s most creative modern fingerstyle guitarists with a repertoire spanning solo viral videos and popular arrangements, alongside mainstream chart success performing with Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues.
Dawes was named Best Acoustic Guitarist in the World two years in a row (2017 & 2018) by Total Guitar Magazine/MusicRadar reader polls and simply needs to be seen to be believed. His ability to combine the melody, bass, harmony and percussion all seamlessly together with just one guitar leaves audiences absolutely stunned, both with original music and popular covers.
In addition to touring with Justin Hayward, Dawes has toured with fingerstyle guitarists such as Andy McKee and the legendary Tommy Emmanuel. He has also been a prominent part of several International Guitar Night tours throughout North America, most recently hosting the record breaking 20th Anniversary tour in early 2020.
To learn more and buy stuff visit https://mikedawes.com
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